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Indoor Gardening | Getting rid of houseplant pests

by dig the dirt editor

Houseplants bring a touch of the outdoors into our homes—an especially welcome addition in the depths of winter. Assuming we water and feed them correctly and place them in a suitable location, they should be free of insects and healthy most of the time. However, even the best-cared-for houseplants are sometimes attacked by pests that fly inside on their own or hitchhike in on newly acquired plants.

 

Indoor Gardening | Getting rid of houseplant pests

 

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Sure signs that an invasion is underway are sticky leaves and activity that can be detected by peering closely at the plant. The culprits may be mealybugs (round, white, fuzzy creatures that usually hide on leaf stems or in the axils); aphids (small, soft-bodied, reddish, green, or black insects clustered on new growth); scale (hard, oval- or round-shelled insects attached to stems or leaves); or whiteflies (small fluttering insects that feed on the undersides of leaves). Stippled leaves covered with fine whitish webs indicate the presence of yet another pest—the tiny red spider mite.

All of these common houseplant pests suck plant juices, causing stunted or twisted growth. If you don’t take action to stop the damage, the plant will eventually die. Shown here is the treatment of a grape ivy (Cissus species) afflicted with mealybugs; the same process will also eradicate aphids, scale, whiteflies, and red spider mites.

 

STEP 1: ISOLATE THE INFESTED PLANT

  • Make a habit of regularly inspecting your plants so that you can spot insects and mites before their population has had time to increase drastically. You have a much better chance of controlling a small infestation than a major one.
  • Move the infested plant well away from other plants to keep the insects from traveling from one to the next. But don’t shock the quarantined plant by putting it in a place that is much colder or sunnier than its previous location.
  • Wash your hands so that you don’t help to disperse the pests, then inspect the rest of your collection. If you see signs that the insects have already begun to spread, you’ll want to repeat the following steps for each infested plant.

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STEP 2: WASH THE PLANT

  • Dislodge as many insects as possible with a strong stream of water from a flexible hose hooked to the sink, bathtub, or laundry tub. Or, weather permitting, take the plant outdoors and spray it lightly with your garden hose.
  • In the case of clinging scale insects, you might have to use a soapy cloth or toothbrush to wipe the plant clean.
  • If the plant is small enough, it is even more effective to submerge the foliage in water. To do so, fill a bucket or sink with lukewarm water. Then place foil, a rag, or a piece of paper over the top of the pot to hold the soil in place. Next, with your fingers spread around the plant’s stem, turn the plant upside down, and swish the leaves in water for two or three minutes. Finally, set the plant in indirect sunlight, where it can dry without getting burned.

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STEP 3: SPRAY THE PLANT

  • Spray with an insecticidal soap. These soaps contain fatty acids that help eliminate any pests that may remain on the plant after washing. And because they are of low toxicity to humans and pests, insecticidal soaps can be safely used indoors in a well-ventilated area.
  • As with any pesticide, it’s important to read the label carefully before applying. Never increase the recommended dosage, or you may harm or kill the plant.
  • When spraying, be sure to cover the entire plant, wetting both sides of the leaves so the soap comes in direct contact with its quarry.
  • Don’t spray in sunlight, and again, be sure to let the plant dry in a shaded location.
  • Mealybugs and spider mites may require a second spraying two days later. Check the product label for the spray schedule for other pests.
  • The leaves of a few houseplants—ferns, jade plants, and palms—may be damaged by insecticidal soaps. Test-spray a small portion of the plant first; if it is sensitive, burned leaf tips or scorched leaf edges will appear within 48 hours. For these delicate plants, try dabbing the pests with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, which will kill the insects by dehydrating their tiny bodies. Rinse the plant with water afterward.

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STEP 4: REMAIN VIGILANT

  • Keep the treated plant in isolation for a few weeks, checking frequently for a renewed buildup of the pest population. As new generations hatch, you may need to repeat the steps outlined here.
  • Persistence should eventually result in a healthy plant that is ready to return to its decorative role in your home.
  • To prevent future infestations, remember to quarantine all new plants for a month or so.

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Tags

Pest control, indoor gardening, indoor pest control

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